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Expelled MPs to Join Junta-Backed Party, Weakening Prayut, But Firming Ruling Coalition

Convicted drug trafficker Thammanat joins Thai Economic Party, which PM Prayut was seen jumping to. Not anymore.

Thammanat Prompow
Thammanat Prompow

The former secretary-general of Thailand’s ruling party, who was expelled with 20 others Wednesday, will join the Thai Economic Party, a faction with close ties to generals that overthrew the government in 2014.

Thammanat Prompow, who was convicted in Australia for drug trafficking and became a deputy agriculture minister for the Palang Pracharath Party, did not confirm the move, but one of his faction members did.

The Thai Economic Party (Setthakit Thai) was formed in April by former Interior Ministry Permanent Secretary Chatchai “Big Chieng” Promlert, who is closely linked with ex-Interior Minister and former general Anupong Paochinda and the National Council for Peace and Order, who led the 2014 putsch against the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

Ironically, Setthakit Thai last year was seen as a landing place for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha if he should take his loyal MPs and leave Palang Pracharath. But, although he denied it, Prayut was the one who wanted Thammanat and 20 followers purged, making it highly unlikely they would reunite.

Thammanat and the other 20 MPs were tossed Palang Pracharath were after the ruling party lost two by-elections Sunday in southern Thailand, with some members blaming Thamanat for a demeaning stump speech where he talked down to southerners. He earlier was accused of persuading lawmakers to vote against the prime minister in a no-confidence motion.

Thammanat is tight with PPRP leader and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. As the feud with Thammanat intensified, a rift between Prayut and Prawit reportedly opened and widened. The divide was so big that, at one point, there was speculation Prayut would leave with a faction of MPs and join the Thai Economic Party.

This week’s drama has stoked speculation about the possibility of a snap lower house election before lawmakers’ terms end in March 2023.

The purge leaves Palang Pracharath with fewer than 100 seats in the lower house, down from 117 previously. Before the move, the ruling coalition held about 270 of the 500 lower house seats compared with roughly 210 for the opposition.

That gap now appears to remain firm, as the Thai Economic Party is a solidly pro-military as PPRP.

But the electoral picture has been complicated when former senior members of Palang Pracharath, including onetime leader Uttama Savanayana, on Wednesday launched a new party that they said will not support Prayuth as prime minister. Uttama left Palang Pracharath in 2020 amid internal discord.

Prayut on Thursday ruled out reshuffle of his cabinet or snap elections.